"Editor's Note: Due to the popularity of some of eHam's older articles, many of which you may not have read, the eHam.net team has decided to rerun some of the best articles that we have received since eHam's inception. These articles will be reprinted to add to the quality of eHam's content and in a show of appreciation to the authors of these articles." This article was originally published on: 09/05/2003
That Elusive First Contact
I've been involved in ham radio in one way or another since my early teens. I used to go to the local club meetings of the Spokane "Dial Twisters." As a teen, however, I was unable to learn the Morse code. I tried tapes but would memorize the tapes before leaning enough of the code. In retrospect, what I needed was someone to practice with, but nobody offered, and I didn't know at the time to ask.
Fast-forward to 1983 and my first duty assignment in California. A newfound friend with similar interests told me of a local class for novices and invited me to go. About three weeks later I passed the Morse code test. (I had someone to practice with), and the only major hurdle was overcome. I don't think I studied at all for the written but I aced it easily; after all, I'd been reading the handbook for at least five years!
I don't remember how long it took, but sometime later I get the call KB6AOL; yeah, it would be funny to have that call today. At any rate, at the time I didn't own a radio, and while I had access to the club station, I had other things on my mind so I left California without making a single contact.
When I went home on leave I spent most of the month building a forty meter QRP transceiver from a combination of articles in QST and the handbook. I think I used the tuna tin two transmitter and one of the mountaineer series receivers along with various other things.
I strung up some wire, did a quick review of the code, and called CQ a few times, but, as might be expected when one combines no experience, 200 milliwatts, a direct conversion receiver, and a substandard antenna in an urban environment, no real results were obtained. The transceiver eventually became parts for other, more pressing, projects. I still have the audio filter though; it's in my SW receiver.
After returning from Germany I bought an Eico 753 at a yard sale and tried hooking up some wire antennas, but my code was too rusty and my interests were being pulled strongly in other directions. KB6AOL had never made a contact; I let my ticket lapse....
A recent need for a kindler gentler morning wakeup led me to construct a one-transistor FM broadcast transmitter so my alarm clock would play streaming audio instead of nasty broadcast FM. That project woke up something else, however, the thrill I get from building RF projects.
A short diversion into part 15 experiments was interrupted by the realization that I could just get a new ham ticket. A few phone calls later I was scheduled to take elements one, two, and three the following Saturday.
Computers make studying Morse code a LOT easier, I managed to learn enough in that week to pass the code test both ways, i.e. 25+ straight copy and seven or more questions right. The only thing necessary for me to pass the other elements was read every question, yes, all 900 of them, once.
Less than a week later, on the day of the power outage no less, my call showed up in the database, KC8YGZ, that's a mouthful no matter what mode you say it in. The following day, my FT817 showed up at the door. By the evening, the power was restored, the batteries were charging and I was futzing with some hastily made dipoles. The following afternoon, I chased down the mailman to get my LDG Z11 kit, built it that evening and by 10pm Saturday night I was sending out a signal on 40 meters.
Several hours later I was hoarse, metaphorically that is; my CQs went unanswered. To make matters worse, I'd call CQ only to hear someone else calling CQ on the same frequency. Much faster than me of course; no point in trying to answer. They didn't hear my CQ in the first place, and although I knew they were calling CQ, I sure couldn't copy the call.
Well, of course, nobody could hear me. After all, I only have five Watts, and my antennas are substandard. This calls for (drum roll please) ANTENNA EXPERIMENTATION!!! Well, for the next few days I tried dipoles, long wires, the rain gutter, verticals made of this that and the other thing, I even loaded up the window frames. I tried almost every stealth antenna trick I could find on the net. I live in a first floor apartment, so I must use a stealth technique. To be clear, I am hearing people, and in fact, there hasn't been a significant variation in my ability to receive. The full length, but bent, forty meter dipole seems to work about as well as anything I can get away with putting up outside, at least on receive.
After much reading about the challenges and successes of others I settled on a couple of antennas that "should" work, built them carefully enough so that they would work without the tuner on at least some portion of the band and sat down to focus on making a contact.
Well, let me tell ya, after you call CQ and your own call about seven hundred and fifty times you get really bored and start to send too fast. Yes I tried listening for others calling CQ, but someone would always beat me to answering, or, more often, they were sending too fast for me.
I felt it best to hang out on the novice bands as that should be where slow CW ought to be tolerated, and besides, I'm trying to live that missed novice experience.
So I'm sending my CQ in a very blas' manner and out of nowhere, holy cow, someone starts to transmit as soon as I stop and it sounds like they might be talking to me. I copy "something something somethng DE WJ0C WJ0C something." I wasn't sure, was he talking to me? All of a sudden I got very very nervous, and simply sent WJ0C WJ0C DE KC8YGZ KC8YGZ. At least I think that's what I sent; I might have made some mistakes. After I stop, here comes a flood of code. I started copying, but it's too fast; I get flustered, Lost. I got something of the QTH, but didn't here my own call anywhere. He stops, was he talking to me; I still don't know. I copied hardly anything of what he sent and if he wasn't talking to me, well, I didn't know what to send, I panicked, froze, right there. Yes, I'm a grown man, and yes I panicked about something so trivial. Anyway, I waited a minute for something else and then just started calling CQ again, this time much more slowly.
I tried for several more hours moving between 7110 and around 7040, but no more contacts or "possible contacts" where had.
Jim, if you were talking to me, I apologize for not giving you much of a conversation.
It's been almost thirty years since I first became excited about ham radio, and I still haven't made that first HF contact. I have no intentions of giving up. I might try building a fifty wattish tube PA, or, what the heck, just getting my hands on a more powerful transmitter. But ultimately, I want to succeed with low power because building is what I enjoy, and low power stuff is far more approachable.
So, if you hear my anemic CQ on 7110, could you perhaps send a quick email to KC8YGZ@planetp.org saying "Daryl, I heard your CQ from [fill in your QTH]". At least that way I'd have some idea of how far my signal was reaching. The way it stands now, it looks like I might get my extra ticket before I ever make a single HF contact. I'll be taking element four in September.
You can be sure I'll be asking for a systematic call change, at least that way if Jim was talking to me, I might get a second chance.
|That Elusive First Contact|
|At age 14 I came home from school one afternoon and my novice license was in the mail. I had a poor antenna -- what you would expect a high school kid to have back in the day. We lived on the south side of Chicago. My first QSO was on 40 meters with a guy in Peoria who worked for Caterpillar Tractor. Lasted about 20 minutes. I was in heaven. Got a QSL card from him in a couple weeks. I still have it.|